>Hello and welcome to the fourth edition of the ongoing narration of my trip to New York City, during the Thanksgiving weekend of 2008, along with my friends –Nat, Sen and Muan. In the last chapter we looked at our tour of Washington D.C and how despite the freezing weather we managed to enjoy some of the most historically significant monuments in US of A. In this chapter we explore the artistic side of the ‘Big Apple’, both real and digital.
Disclaimer: All names, places, accounts and events mentioned in the narration can be partially or entirely false. Reading this narrative can cause laser eyes, steel claws and severe hallucinations. Possible other side effects include loss of time, increased knowledge, read rage and erectile dysfunction.
November 29, 2008: Return Of The Jedi
Before getting to bed, previous night, we stopped by a fast food center near Nat’s house in Jersey to get some spicy fried chicken wings and some spicy egg rolls. They came with high recommendations from Nat and after tasting them I have to agree. I wasn’t sure if it was all the walking we did earlier or the hunger after the long drive from Washington DC, but they were delicious. With full stomach and the air conditioner churning in warm air, Nat’s house felt precious and I slept like I haven’t slept in weeks. Next morning, I woke up all excited about our planned upcoming events. First we were going to the Empire State Building – Yes, the one from the movie Jeans – and then, for the first time in my US of A history, we were going to a theater where they do real life drama, and then hit 30 Rock, short for Rockefeller Center and take the tour of NBC, National Broadcasting Company, one of the country’s first and prominent broadcasting studios. But first, I had to take care of something. The spicy egg rolls that I ate the previous night had apparently worked hard on my stomach and intestines that I was a bit overwhelmed at the toilet. After a handful of gruesome minutes I was as fresh as an Old spice bottle on discount. We picked up some donuts from dunkin and, we got so used to the NJ cold, that without even thinking we all bought a fresh cup of Joe – that’s American for coffee. Like the past two days, we caught the train at journal square to NYC and by the time we reached the door steps of Empire State Building the caffeine was out at peak level and we couldn’t wait to scale the tallest building New York State.
The Empire State Building is probably the second most iconic architecture in New York City, behind only the State of Liberty. At 1453 ft it was the tallest building in New York, until it was surpassed by the World Trade Center, regaining its position after 9/11 2001. It is also the second tallest freestanding building in US of A after the Willis Tower in Chicago and 11th tallest in the world. It hurts your back just to arch and look at the main observatory at 102nd floor, which is where we were headed. There are two observation desks one at the 80th floor and one at 102nd and Wikipedia states that the lines for the entrance to those decks are as legendary as the building itself. We took the cue from that information and bought ourselves the NY City Pass at start of the trip. As a result, the security guy near the counter opened a special passageway for us and, as I mockingly laughed at the waiting crowd, took us to a special counter for us-special people. Apparently, there were lots of special people. This new counter itself had significant queue, less than the previous one, but longer than what we preferred. Not to be outdone we looked for a shortcut and, as always, good old dollar bills came to the rescue. For an extra fee, there is another access- a special line if you will, that led us straight to the observation deck elevator escorted by a nice lady and in a matter of minutes we became one of the 110 million people who visit this place every year. If it wasn’t for the fence that completely covers and cordons off the edge of the deck I would have thought we were flying. As soon as you step up to the edge, you get a clear idea of you Manhattan is as unique as they say. All of the high rise buildings that you usually look with wonder, arching your back from the ground, now seem like simple rectangular structures, much less in stature from where we were standing. Very few of the iconic Manhattan skyline buildings were comparable in height to the Empire State Building and now we could get the whole picture. Closely packed tall rises where everywhere, from the dark UN Building to the green Chrysler Building. We could see the clear outlines of Central Park, a completely out place patch of lush green right in the middle of a concrete jungle. Surrounded by water, NYC Burroughs connect via some famed bridges including the Brooklyn Bridge which connects Brooklyn and Manhattan and we could pretty much see every one of them – and they all seem so tiny. Looking down in the streets bright yellow cabs were in what seemed like a parade, beautifully orchestrated by traffic lights. Huge chunks of people walking in hives stopping together and continuing their collective stride to the tune of the ‘walk sign’ at every intersection. Then there are individual people, who stand completely disconnected at some street corner or a bus stop, completely oblivious to the feverish activity happening around them. It was like a time-lapse video at a very large scale, only the camera never stops. After going around the deck several times we rode the elevator down, and stepped out to the curb. I looked up at the observation deck where we were just minutes ago and immediately the whole experience turned ten fold. There is a reason why it is one of the wonders of the world and I promised myself that I’ll come back to it again.
We began our long walk to our next destination – The Colt Theater in Broadway to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The 13 Steps’. Broadway district in NYC is famous for theater performance of various forms from musicals to comic, from low budget to high value production, featuring some of the best artistic talents. A number of Hollywood actors, actresses, musicians, directors, writers and designers have begun their career in the streets of Broadway, and some still actively participate, and the district is littered with theaters new and old, hip and legendary. The Colt Theater looked like the old aristocratic opera theater you see on timepiece movies except it looker a bit polished, and the dangling wires from light fixtures and modern cushion covers of the seat kept reminding us of the current era. That said it was an absolutely great show. Somewhere between watching the Thanksgiving Day parade for the first time and standing in front of the Washington Memorial for the first time, watching a comedy-drama performed live on that Saturday afternoon was certainly special. You can read full review about my experience at the Colt Theater here.
So far the day had gone absolutely wonderful and I was so happy that I forgot completely about lunch. By the time we stepped out of the Theater into the freezing streets of Broadway I was well past my threshold for hunger and was willing trade any one of my friends for bag of pretzel. The cold wind was relentless and I felt as though my extremities were beginning to freeze, as we wandered block after block, street after street to find an open eatery past 6 pm on Saturday of Thanks Giving Weekend, learning as we progressed that we far past end of business hour. The next one-hour would become an unforgettable time frame of the trip. After a long and tiresome search we found a bakery slightly close to Rockefeller Center. As soon as we entered it, we realized they were closing and the only stuff they had left was cold sandwiches. We each bought one, I got egg salad sandwich. Then they said, they would have to close the shop and we cannot eat inside. Cold Sandwich in one hand we walked out, the temperature was bone chilling and we struggled to stand against the strong gust of freezing wind. At some point Adrenalin kicked in, we simply started walking completely unconscious of each other, and soon I found myself on a street bench – made of steel which felt like a block of ice – hastily opening the sandwich and wolfing it down. I was aware that my hands were shivering too much to hold the sandwich steady and water running down my nostrils as my brain was scrambling desperately to balance my body temperature. Instead of chewing I simply swallowed portions like talking pills, since it was too cold when my teeth touched the cold egg salad. I am not sure how long I sat there with the empty sandwich wrap, hands clasped together and winter cap tightly drawn over my ears. I can still think of that grueling one-hour and feel goose bumps all over.
But life has to move on. With food in our stomachs, our hearts pumping warm blood to critical parts of the body we continued with new energy to our final destination of the day, the Rockefeller Center. The whole place was decorated for the Christmas spirit and they had their famous ice skating platform next to a giant Christmas tree. We spent some time watching other people skate as we came up with various reasons why we shouldn’t do it. But our main purpose of visiting the Rockefeller center was the NBC Studio.
The National Broadcasting Network was the first major broadcasting network in US of A formed in 1926, oldest among big three broadcasters in North America – ABC and CBS being the other two. It has a huge presence in American News, Entertainment and other Media sent over airwaves and is a parent network for a multitude syndicate programs and channels through out the world. It is a venue for a number of live news, performance and comedy shows including the ever-famous Saturday Night Live. Having grown up with TV as a make believe surrogate parent I couldn’t escape the feeling of going to a make believe surrogate home. On one side I wanted to see the sticks and props of the puppetry that is TV entertainment, but on the other I was anxious that once the tricks are revealed it won’t be as magical anymore. With a mixture of uncertainty, I entered the Studio section of Rockefeller Center and we all bought tickets for the studio tour. As is customary in all attractions in US of A, the entrance was a giant merchandise shop full of expectedly overpriced souvenirs- cups, t-shirts, pants and figures made of Styrofoam and synthetic rubber- all related to one or many of the movies and programming coming out of the NBC house. There is something novel about shopping at a place that is a master in selling things.
There was little video presentation showing the history, geography and political science behind NBC and then moved on to the studio tours. First we visited a newsroom – sort of – fitted with teleprompter for the news castor and green screen for the weatherman/woman. A little girl from the audience played the newscaster as she read the lines fed through the teleprompter and, sure enough, in the output screen she appeared as naturally reading as anyone. Some guy got to pretend as weather man in front of the green screen waving and pointing at the invisible rain cloud near Manhattan and in the screen the rain cloud was poised just like intended by Mother Nature. I imagined me sitting beside that table and struggling read from the teleprompter as we moved along the corridor to a daily talk show set. We were visiting the set of ‘The Late Night Show’, then hosted by Conan O Brian. I have seen a couple of those shows on TV and the set always looked brand new, with the lights, shining floor, polished desk and a beautiful sky line view of Manhattan at night as background. But in real life, it was much worn out. I don’t recall any of the parts of the set being shiny and the desk looked pretty old. Anyway the tour guide lady explained all the nuances in hosting a talk show including the ‘applause’ screen, which is basically a screen with the word ‘APPLAUSE’ written on it. During the show whenever the screen is lit, the audience would break into a roar of applause, generally done when the host makes a funny remark or a flat remark, or pretty much any remark. But given the comic talents of these late night hosts I would say those ‘applause’ screens were mostly redundant. We also had a look at the set of Saturday Night Live, more popularly known as SNL – on a Saturday.
By the time we finished up the tour and stepped out I realized the magic was still there. It’s just the tricks were not that interesting anymore-with the entire Internet and all. We walked for sometime to Grand Central Terminal but couldn’t spend much time there, since it was pretty cold and dinnertime was creeping up quickly. But mostly we had great day today and felt completely exhausted. Right from the Empire State Building to the Broadway drama and the refreshing time at the Rockefeller Center we had memorable experiences and we were ready close the day. We caught the train back to Journal Square and after having one of my most favorite dish – a nice and warm ‘kothu parotta’ at a local Indian shop we called it a night.
Coming Up: Our last day at New York City where we engage in a desperate race against time to visit some of the attractions we missed out and attempt to get our hands on some NYC merchandise. Be sure to check back